Miss Parkersburg crowned 3 years after tornado - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Miss Parkersburg crowned 3 years after tornado


Recent scenes of tornado devastation bring up a lot of painful memories in Parkersburg, New Hartford, Dunkerton, and Hazleton

Wednesday was the three year anniversary when an EF5 twister rolled through the area, killing 8 people.  Instead of recalling their difficult past, Parkersburg families are celebrating their future.  Seven young women are hoping to represent the community as Miss Parkersburg.

It just happened by coincidence, the last Wednesday of May worked out with the school calendar and other community events.  The organizer actually didn't realize until a few weeks ago that the pageant would fall on the three year anniversary of the devastating tornado.

The storm impacted the girls' lives in ways few people can understand.  Now, they're hoping to represent their community as the families there continue to heal.

"When you look at our town, it just doesn't even look like anything happened. We look like a normal town. Underneath it all, we have all been through a lot," Miss Parkersburg contestant Jenzen Vanderholt said.

From the outside looking in, the seven girls competing for the title of Miss Parkersburg are average teenagers.  Which is why it's hard to imagine that three years ago, almost to the minute, a tornado ripped apart their past, and left them to sort through an uncertain future.

"It's like around 5:00 we were all scrambling to see if everybody was okay, not worrying about your house. Just making sure everybody was okay and alive still," Vanderholt said.

"It kind of seems like it just happened yesterday. It's just really surreal," contestant Jaclyn Wangler said.

Like it or not, the title of Miss Parkersburg comes with a little more pressure than a woman representing Grundy Center or Allison.  These girls will always face the question: where were you when the tornado hit?  And their answers, even three years later, carry heavy emotions.

"You think back to the day that it happened and it seems so close to you. But you think about all the things we've accomplished in those three years... and it seems like it's been forever -- all the things we've gotten done in that short time," Miss Parkersburg 2011 Emory Ballhagen said.

Families in Parkersburg pulled through their tragedy by standing together.  And that's a trait these ladies will take with them, as they continue to rebuild their community.

"We have such a wonderful and strong, supportive community. Especially for young people in the community. So I'm glad to represent them," Ballhagen said.

Emory Ballhagen was crowned Miss Parkersburg.  She just graduated from high school, and is heading to Iowa State University in the fall.  Emory and the other young women say, it's hard to watch the images we're seeing now from Missouri and Oklahoma.

If they could give them any advice, it's to rely on your faith and your friends to get through this.

Our own Sunny Layne was one of the judge's at the pageant.  Events do continue in Parkersburg this weekend with the annual EF5K walk and run.

Money raised from the 5k run will go toward the Parkersburg library expansion and the money from the Ed Thomas 10k will go to the Ed Thomas Family Foundation.

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